A unitary Ipswich 'may cost £14m'

IT will cost £14.2m for Ipswich Borough Council to break away from Suffolk County Council and become an independent unitary authority, it has been claimed.

By Graham Dines

IT will cost £14.2m for Ipswich Borough Council to break away from Suffolk County Council and become an independent unitary authority, it has been claimed.

The figure has been calculated by one of the country's leading geography professors in a study of the costs associated with the bids for independence by Ipswich council and three other authorities.

With the Government refusing either to pick up the bill or sanction any rise in council tax, fears have been expressed that it will lead to a cut in services in both Suffolk and Ipswich unless assurances are given that the cost can be met from efficiency savings.

Michael Chisholm, emeritus professor of geography at the University of Cambridge, was commissioned by the County Councils Network following a survey on behalf of Ipswich, Norwich, Oxford and Exeter, justifying their bids to breakaway from county councils so that they can run their own services.

Ipswich council leader Liz Harsant insisted last night it was “nonsense to suggest that the council taxpayers will have to pay anything for a unitary Ipswich”.

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But Professor Chisholm's report, presented to the county councils just before last week's Local Government White Paper, calculates the cost of reorganising Suffolk county services and the setting up of new departments such as education and social care in Ipswich at between £11.7m and £14.2m.

And it states: “There is every probability that actual costs would be near the higher of the two figures.”

Ipswich will have to file a business case for unitary status by the end of January. Shortlisting of applications will be made by the end of March and if the legislation passes through parliament, the new council will be operational on April 1, 2009.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Ruth Kelly said: “Every proposal must include a detailed financial analysis of the costs involved. The Government will not expect any reduction in the quality of services or cuts in services.

“Restructuring must deliver value for money and be self-financing. Any council making a proposal should ensure that all costs incurred are met locally without increasing council tax.”

Mrs Harsant accused Professor Chisholm of “scaremongering”. She said: “It is nonsense to suggest that the council tax payers will have to pay anything for a unitary Ipswich.

“The White Paper makes clear, and the application criteria states, that `restructuring must deliver value for money and be self-financing.' I want to work with our neighbours in a spirit of friendship and trust but the debate must be about facts not fiction.

“Ipswich, along with other councils that apply for unitary status, must fund all set-up costs from within existing budgets and recoup them within five years. This will be done through cutting waste and duplication and through a policy of smarter spending.”

Mrs Harsant added: “This report was written before the White Paper was even published and has been overtaken by events. As such it is a waste of money.”

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